Well, here we are in mid April 2014 and another ice fishing season has come and gone. But my, oh my, what a season it was! For many ... it started earlier than ever and lasted longer than they could have even imagined. My buddy Adam for instance began by walking on 3 inches of solid H2O up in Algonquin Park, fishing splake with some buddies on Nov 29 ... just before all fishing closes there between Dec 1 and last Saturday in April. He enjoyed tremendous success in a back country lake ... as you can see here in the photo bellow.
I then fished with Adam for big jumbo perch on Simcoe April 11, meaning he ice fished during 6 months (one more than me) of the 2013/2014 winter season! Now that's an impressive milestone that he may never achieve again in his lifetime!
Let's have a brief rundown then of the 2013/2014 ice fishing season ... the type of which we may never again see in our lifetime!
For my buddy Gerry Heels and I, Ice fishing season began in December over a New Years trip just south of Gogama ... to his camp that can only be reached by train in winter. In many ways, that trip was an indicator of what the winter had in store throughout the entire season for ice angler's right across North America. Record breaking cold temperatures, so much snow that trails were inaccessible and lakes that were loaded with slush for most of the winter. Those elements put the kibosh on many hard water fishin' opportunities all over our hard water regions.
As for yellow perch on Simcoe … the season started with a hot bite and ended with one. Although I didn't top the 14 inch mark … plenty of 12"-13 ¾" fatties were pulled from my holes. Early in the season when perch are typically active … action didn't really pick up until my son Izaak and I figured out what those finicky perch were permitting us to feed them. The tungsten HT Marmooska jigs tipped with maggots or a minnow head were that tiny morsel they preferred above all else on several outings. Attempts with many other proven perch baits proved ineffective by comparison. So, although it was a bit of a drag waiting for these small baits to sink down to the 30-35 feet or so where most of the bigger perch were … especially on those ultra-cold days, it did produce desired results when other anglers nearby were either plagued with dinks or fishless outings.
Wil's new Polar Fire gas auger was a Godsend this past winter ... he loved the fact that you can transport with gas tank down- thanks to a unique venting system!
By mid season ... ice everywhere was incredible. So much snow in the north slowed growth there- but still most lakes had a couple feet or more. On Simcoe, with somewhat less snow, we eventually reached over three feet of good ice. It was the best year for travel with snowmobile I can remember in over two decades - with fewer pressure cracks or other dangerous conditions than ever! I was extremely thankful for my new HT Polar Fire gas auger to cut thru all that ice quicker and easier than with any other gas auger I've ever used!
On Lake Simcoe lake trout were very cooperative right from opening day and several outstanding catches took place. At the very start, many anglers were determined to figure out the infamous Lake Simcoe whitefish puzzle.
The winter before, very few were caught and un-substantiated reports of massive whitefish die-offs at the bottom of the lake had many anglers wondering what happened. Truth be told, MNR followed up on those reports and couldn't find a single dead whitefish. I wrote about a challenge anglers faced to try and figure them out for my Hooked On Fishing column in the winter edition of Lake Simcoe Living Magazine ... and apparently many anglers did indeed figure them out!
I suggested a likely shift in forage to a goby diet which in turn meant a shift from deeper to shallower water for. Add a rocky, gravel bottom to the mix- which gobies prefer ... and potentially you could be in prime Simcoe's whitie territory. Ah ... but with so much food, those bottom dwelling fish were not overly ravenous - feeding on their equally bottom loving prey. This meant finesse and trickery had to become part of the angler's arsenal so those who used smaller baits with less movement did well. “I fished for several hours dropping all kinds of baits to the whities below ... but couldn't get bit until I tied-on a Storm goby imitating swim bait, and immediately a nice whitie sucked it in," said my buddy Greg.
Greg fooled this Simcoe whitie with this goby-imitating soft plastic bait made by Storm
Over the last several years here in Southern Ontario, the late ice season hasn't lasted much past March 15th - when all the huts have to be off Lake Simcoe. It's also when all lake trout, whitefish and walleye fishing must stop because of seasons closing. But this was the winter that just kept on giving … and so too did fishing opportunities right across most of Ontario. I've been fortunate to be able to enjoy some of this rare late hard water action and although it hasn't been as fast and furious as I remember it was, it has been productive and fun.
At a beautiful northern lake, that we visited a couple of times the lake trout are a stark contrast from their Lake Simcoe cousins. For one … they're all natural, wild (not stocked) trout and by all accounts reproduction is excellent. There appear to be far more trout present per square acre in this northern Ontario lake as well … but with quantity you often have to sacrifice quality. So- the two pounders we were catching were pretty much standard compared to trout ... both wild and stocked, from Simcoe that regularly top 10lbs and in 2014 saw several over 20!
Here Gerry Heels lands one of many typical small lakers during our late season foray on a Muskoka Lake. Gerry will be sharing his knowledge with others next winter with a new guiding service he is starting.
Finding these wild trout in this Muskoka lake was not too difficult - as we chose points to home in on. However, perhaps more importantly we picked secondary points that weren't as obvious to most other anglers. We noticed noticeable major points had groups of anglers on them … so my buddy Gerry Heels, Paul Kindy and I preferred to get away from those crowds and fish the less obvious secondary points. A varied bottom depth seemed to be a common thread in the areas we fished as well. With my new Polar Fire gas auger I was able to quickly drill several holes thru more than 2 feet of black ice.
Within a long cast one hole would be in 40 feet while another was in 120. Strangely enough, I caught trout at both extremes. Productive baits when trout were active included pearl colored Trigger X Tube Jigs and 2" Moresilda Spoons but when things slowed down and we were still marking fish on our Lowrance Elite 5 units, I would pull out my perch tackle and finesse those trout into striking. HT's Alien Jigs tipped with a 3"Trigger X Minnow that I trimmed down to about 1.5" and tied to 4 lb test were the ticket. Fighting these small trout on a 36" Polarlite rod was an added thrill.
As the season winded down to the very last days a fairly aggressive perch bite did materialize. We had two productive areas on Lake Simcoe; one was an end of day spot on the east side of the lake, and the other an early morning spot on the west. The former hot zone was in just 12 feet, while the latter was in 17'. What both scenarios had in common was the remarkable ability for the biggest of the perch to turn on during the low light periods of both dusk and dawn. Those triple F times would be Fast, Furious and Fun! In between, we would still catch fish … but it would involve walking from one pre-drilled hole to another … getting a couple keepers from each and enough dinks to shake an ice fishing stick at … but at least it kept us busy between prime times.
Beautiful perch like this really turned on during low light periods. Although typically not active at night like their walleye cousins, dawn and dusk can be magical for big perch. Here my buddies Greg Lunn (left) and Adam Challice (right) show off some of their catch as we head off the ice at the end of another successful late ice, late day bite!
At time of writing this during the Easter long weekend, some piscatorial prognosticators are predicting that for possibly the first time in most of our lifetimes … there will be fisheries in northern Ontario that will still have ice … and therefore ice fishing potential - come typical “open water brook trout season opener on the last Saturday of the month. I know for sure, my friend Gord Pyzer from Kenora is still driving ATV's on his beloved Sunset Country lakes enjoying short sleeve conditions and a phenomenal late, late season Easter time bite!
Here in the south though Simcoe is much like all those Easter Eggs all painted and pretty. Those eggs are ready to be cracked wide open with gold goodness deep inside waiting to be munched down. The lake too is ready to be cracked wide open and as the ice peels away, inside will be special gold fillings - all those beautiful jumbo perch swimming around with no hard shell overtop - ready to be munched down one at a time!
It's always nice to finish off a season on the water ... hard or soft - with a great catch. Wil enjoyed one of those with plenty of jumbo's like this April 12, 2014.
Ice fishing is done for another year … but what a year it was!